While some films get bad reviews, few movies with big name actors get excoriated like Mortdecai did on its cinema release. The film was greeted with some exceptionally scathing notices, but while you can understand some of the points those reviewers were making, the fact is it’s not half as bad as they made out.
Johnny Depp is Lord Charles Mortdecai, a British art dealer with an aristocratic background and penchant for shady shenanigans. He and his wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), owe £8 million in back taxes and don’t have much time to raise it, although a possible lifeline arrives following the death of an art dealer and the discovery that a legendary painting by Goya may have been stolen from her.
Mortdecai soon gets caught up in an international chase, with Mi5 wanting to use him to find the painting, angry Russian thinking he may already have it, and a secret agent (Ewan McGregor) possibly using the situation to makes moves on Charles’ wife.
Adapted from the series of novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Mortdecai is a bizarre concoction, and in many respects a bit of a mess. Yet even so it’s oddly fun. Everyone involved seems to be having a great time and they’re keen to take the audience along for the ride. And if you just let go and head off on that ride, it is fairly entertaining.
That’s not to say the critics were completely wrong. The main problem is that the film has no idea what it wants to be – it’s a little bit Peter Sellers, a tad Cary Grant and with a dose of 70s caper flick, but it never seems to decide whether it’s wants to emulate or spoof, while constantly flying off on tangent that don’t really fit with what’s going on. While everyone is having fun, they’re also all making different movies. That’s particularly true of Johnny Depp, who goes fully Willy Wonka by playing a completely insane, over the top character, who seems to have dropped in from a another film (probably a cartoon).
I started to feel that the issue was that this is a film made by people who absolutely adore everything British, and that they wanted to make a tribute to is. However, they don’t quite get how British comedy works. For example, there’s a large dose of Jeeves and Wooster in the relationship between Mortdecai and his man-servant, Jock (Paul Bettany – who seems to be channeling Vinnie Jones), yet without any proper understanding of why the dynamic between the PG Wodeshouse characters work.
It is undoubtedly a movie you’ll forget the minute it finishes, and a lot of it is more stupid than silly, but despite its long list of flaws, I did think it was oddly fun. Sure Johnny Depp needs to tone things down when he takes these sorts of role, but Mortdecai could have been a lot worse.
Overall Verdict: Bizarre and in many respects a total mess, but thanks to a bunch of actors having a lot of fun (even if they don’t quite seem sure what they’re doing) it just about carries you along for the ride.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac